Rav Binyomin Kamenetzky zt”l

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It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing moments ago of Rav Binyomin Kamenetzky zt”l, legendary founder of Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore and leading pioneer of Yiddishkeit in the Five Towns community.

Rav Kamenetzky was the eldest son of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l. He was sent by his venerable father, decades ago, to The Five Towns to bring Torah and Yiddishkeit to that part of New York. Rav Binyomin was well-known for his leadership, his courage, his ahavas haTorah and ahavas Hashem, and his warm and endearing personality, making him beloved by all.

Aside from his illustrious yichus, Rav Binyomin was known for his sterling qualities. He was a talmid chochom who was deeply devoted to limud haTorah. He possessed outstanding middos and was a deeply dedicated and beloved husband, father and grandfather.

Most well-known, though, were his tireless efforts to build Torah in the Five Towns, which today is home to prominent centers of Torah and dozens of shuls, with tens of thousands of frum families. That community owes its very existence to Rav Binyomin, who entered a midbar and worked lesheim Shomayim, without rest, to plant Torah.

One can confidently say that Rav Binyomin was one of the greatest builders of Torah in America of his generation.

Rav Binyomin was raised in the town of Tzitivyan, Lithuania, where his father, Rav Yaakov, served as rov. He was three years old when his father assumed that position.

Rav Binyomin left home at the young age of 8 to learn in a cheder in the town of Shavel, where he stayed at the home of the dayan of Shavel, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Nochumofsky. After Shavel, he continued his learning in the Yeshiva Ketana of Kelm, after which I learned in a yeshiva in the city of Rakishok.

Rav Yaakov moved to Toronto from Lita in the late 1930s, as Rav Yaakov assumed a position as rov in the Canadian city. Rav Binyomin and the rest of the family joined him only later on.

In Rav Yaakov’s absence, while still in Europe, Rav Binyomin was sent by his uncle from Rakishok to Telshe, where Rav Binyomin learned until he joined his father in North America.

Shortly after arriving in Toronto, Rav Binyomin was sent by his father to learn at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was headed by Rav Yaakov’s long-time friend, Rav Dovid Leibowitz. He then studied at Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, MD, which was led by his father’s cousin, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman.

In 1947, Rav Binyomin married his wife, Rebbetzin Tzirel Kamenetzky, one of the seven children of Rav Pinchus Eliyahu Spiegel, the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe in the Bronx, and his Rebbetzin, Basha (nee Burstein).

Rav Binyomin initially served as a rebbi at Yeshiva Toras Chaim in East New York, which was led by Rav Isaac Schmidman. In 1956, at the urging of his father, Rav Binyomin uprooted his family from the thriving community of East New York to move to the small town of Woodmere. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky told his son, “Even if you plant in the wasteland, it will grow.” That was the theme of his work in the community.

People questioned Rav Kamenetsky’s decision to give up his stable job as a rebbi to move to a spiritual wasteland, where there was no interest in Torah.

Rav Binyomin and his rebbetzin faced a challenge ahead of them in growing the community and also in raising their own family al taharas hakodesh.

There were no kosher facilities to speak of. The Five Towns then was a midbar without a minyan of shomrei Shabbos.

Rav Binyomin was undaunted, however.

He opened a yeshiva for boys on Oak Street and Broadway, and a girls’ school on Pine Street. There was vehement opposition. People worked to shut those mosdos down.

But Rav Binyomin powered on.

When Rav Binyomin instituted certain levels of halachic adherence and hashkafah, people told him that those “rules” wouldn’t work. They told him no one would listen. They told him he was barking up the wrong tree.

But he knew those doubters were wrong.

Rav Kamenetsky was there to embrace people, bring them into the tent of Torah, and let them know about the beauty of a Torah way of life. He was a visionary and a trailblazer.

Rav Binyomin saw diamonds in the rough and flowers in the desert.

Rav Binyomin was respected, because he knew how to communicate with people, how to talk their language, and how to understand them.

He had vision and a pioneering spirit. He became the spiritual bedrock of the community.

Rav Binyomin ultimately gained the confidence of the community.

Rav Binyomin came as a pioneer, introducing Torah Judaism in his own special way, building what became an extraordinary community.

Rav Binyomin knew that if he was going to succeed, the community would need yeshivos, schools and shuls. He founded Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore, but he also started the school that became TAG (Torah Academy for Girls), Young Israel of Woodmere, and Rav Dovid Spiegel’s Shtiebel in Cedarhurst. His influence and planning started Young Israel of Lawrence/Cedarhurst. Even the institutions that he didn’t directly found have his influence embedded in their very existence.

Rav Binyomin was interested in helping the yochid and the klal, and no one was too small for him to assist and uplift.

It was never about him, but about building and increasing the development of Torah. He impacted the lives of thousands, which was why he was held in such great esteem.

He had a dream to do something in an area where it had never been done before.

And he did it.

He made a difference in the lives of so many people. He was a model for others to learn from in dealing with other people and being a mentch at the highest levels.

He was dedicated to chinuch with his entire heart and soul, and he gave everything for it.

His love for every Jewish child was evident always. He believed that every Jewish child deserves and needs a Torah chinuch, whether they could pay tuition or not, and no matter what their background was. And he had a drive to do chesed and help anyone, no matter who they were or where they came from.

His leadership inspired others to follow him, emulating his love of Torah and his work ethic. His needs were always subordinate to the needs of the community, the needs of the mosdos haTorah, and the needs of fellow Jews.

It gave Rav Binyomin the greatest satisfaction to see the continuity of Yiddishkeit via mosdos, shuls and other endeavors that he undertook.

There is almost no one in the Five Towns today who he did not touch, directly or indirectly, because between boys’ and girls’ chinuch, and shuls, everyone has been influenced in some way by Rav Binyomin and his rebbetzin.

Every leader, rov and mosad in the Five Towns has been impacted by this legendary builder of Torah.

Rav Binyomin is survived by his children, Mrs. Sarah Knobel, wife of Rav Yitzchok Knobel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah of the Five Towns; Mrs. Esther Wilhelm, wife of Rav Shlomo Wilhelm of Monsey; Mrs. Shani Lefkowitz, wife of Rav Simcha Lefkowitz, rov of Congregation Anshei Chessed in Woodmere, NY; Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore; and Rav Tzvi Kamenetzky of Toronto; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rav Binyomin is also survived by his siblings, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rav Nosson Kamenetsky and Mrs. Rivkah Diskind. He was predeceased by his brother, Reb Avrohom, and sister, Rebbetzin Malkah Shurin.

The levaya will take place on Sunday, April 3, at 10 a.m., at Yeshiva of South Shore, located at 1170 William Street in Hewlett, NY, 11557. The yeshiva has two limited parking lots on Serena Road, right across from the main entrance on William Street. Parking will also be available at the Woodmere Middle School and Franklin Elementary School.

Shivah will take place at the Kamenetzky residence, located at 357 Barnard Avenue, in Woodmere, NY. Shacharis will be at 8 a.m. Mincha/Maariv will be at 7:40 p.m.

Yehi zichroh boruch.

{CB Frommer-Matzav.com Newscenter}

11 COMMENTS

  1. This is a significant loss. We lost a modest, quiet and self-effacing Talmid chocham who was not only extremely intelligent but who was also instrumental in changing the five towns into what it is today. On a personal level, I learned in his Yeshiva and feel quite indebted to him.

    Baruch Dayan emes

  2. I WAS CLOSE WITH RAV KAMINETSKY FOR ALMOST 70 YEARS.I GREW UP IN RABBI SPIEGEL’S SHUL IN THE BRONX.HE WAS A MOST EXTRAORDINARY PERSON, A REAL HERO.

  3. Rav Kamenetzky was such a role model for us teaching what it means to be a true Ohev Yisrael. He was the clear Possuk of ‘Lechtech Achary Bamidbar Beretz Lo Zarua. He was a living Kiddush Hashem.

    • We have the luxury to be nostalgic about it now, All those mechanchim of that generation suffered a long, lonely ‘Lechtech Achary Bamidbar Beretz Lo Zarua. ‘

      My zaide, a elder friend of Rav Binyomin Kamenetzky,was invited by Rav Binyomin to come be the first Principal of South Shore.

      We will hopefully be zocheh to the complete fulfillment of Tehillim 126:5

  4. I attended YOSS as a child, when it was considered the yeshivish elementary school in the FR-5 Towns area. Rabbi Kamenetzky was mekarev me all the years and was even instrumental in my shidduch. On a personal level, I will miss his warmth and loving smile. Yehi Zichro Boruch.

  5. BORUCH DAIYAN HAEMES!!

    It needs to be stressed that as Rav Binyomin, ZT’L, was the oldest son of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, ZT’L, he was the main link of the “next generation” of the great “Kamenetzky Rabbinic Dynasty.” That he has now been Nifter — OY!! MEH HAYA LANU!!

  6. What was his age? [About two years ago, I heard that — Yibodel L’Chaim Tovim V’Aruchim — his “younger” brother, Rav Shmuel, Sh’lita, was (then) 90, so that would put his age now at, K’neged Aiyin Hara, about 95?]

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